Tsunami highlights need for regional disaster defense: UN
UNITED NATIONS, Tuesday (AFP) - The world must beef up regional first
lines of defense to quickly react to disasters such as last year's
Indian Ocean tsunami, says UN emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland.
Reviewing the extraordinary world response to the killer waves that
devastated coastal communities in 12 countries, the 48-year-old
Norwegian said: "The tsunami started in the most dramatic way possible,
with nature at its worst and humanity at its best."
"It was a year when the humanitarian community was uniquely
challenged and where we by and large rose to the challenge like never
before," he told AFP from his command center on the 36th floor of the UN
Many lessons were learnt, he noted, including "the need to build much
more of a first line of defense both in terms of disaster preparedness
and prevention", particularly in developing countries.
"The lives that were saved were saved by the people who were there
when the tsunami broke," he said. "We need more standby arrangements
where we can use more Africans in Africa, Asians in Asia and Latin
Americans in Latin America."
"We are often struggling in such areas as water and sanitation, in
management and coordination," the UN official said. "How do you set up
10 cities or 50 cities in weeks with security, administration, shelters,
water, food? It's an extremely complex operation."
Egeland, who is also UN under-secretary general for humanitarian
affairs,.said the United Nations now has standby arrangements on all
continents but must do more to recruit and train personnel.
The world body wants 10 percent of humanitarian aid to be invested in
disaster prevention measures, particularly in the developing world.
Another key lesson from the tsunami was the importance of effective
cooperation and coordination among UN agencies, the Red Cross and the
"The speed with which people got food, water, medical relief and
emergency shelters was very impressive," Egeland said. "It was a very
good civilian and military cooperation, probably the best ever."
"Where we seemed to have made less progress than we had hoped is in
permanent shelters and reconstruction and livelihood," Egeland said.
"There was so much money available for this effort that there were
expectations that people would not meet their first-year anniversary in
tents," he added.
But in the Indonesian province of Aceh, which was hit hardest by the
tsunami, "too many people will grieve (and) mourn their dead one year
after in the same tents they got in February."
The December 26 tsunami, and the earthquake off the coast of
Indonesia that triggered it, killed nearly 220,000 people, most of them
in Indonesia and Sri Lanka; left almost two million homeless; and caused
economic damage worth billions of dollars in a dozen countries.
Egeland said that, realistically, the people of Aceh would probably
have to wait another year to have their homes rebuilt. He also praised
the world's generous response, noting that, "We had resources like I
have never seen before when we started the year with the tsunami relief
The UN has received 1.1 billion dollars (nearly one billion euros) to
date in response to its revised tsunami flash appeal for 1.3 billion
dollars, and it has a further 72 million dollars in pledges.
And Egeland said the year was ending on a very positive note, with
the UN General Assembly's approval of a 500-million-dollar
(425-million-euro) humanitarian emergency fund.
"Donors and member states have realized that you have to go from
lottery to predictability," he said.
Egeland said that in addition to an existing loan facility of 50
million dollars, the new fund could already count on 173 million dollars
in pledges by mostly European donors, including Britain, France,
Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.
Another 40 million dollars were in the pipeline from donors,
including Canada, Denmark and Nigeria, he added.
The United States and Japan were considering contributing, Egeland
said, noting that he was also expecting funding from oil-rich countries,
particularly from the Gulf region.
The fund is expected to become fully operational in March.